How to Give Away Credit Card Annual Free Hotel Nights.. and Earn Status for Other Peoples Stays

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Reader Mary Jane asked,

Hi Gary, The annual free night that IHG gives to their cc holders, can it be used by others or only by the person whose name is on the cc? I’m thinking of signing my son up.

The Hyatt Visa, IHG Rewards Club MasterCard, and Marriott Visa all offer an annual free night that I think makes paying the annual fee on and keeping the cards worthwhile.

  • The IHG Rewards Club free night is valid at any of their hotel properties.
  • The Hyatt free night can only be used at hotels that are designated category 4 (out of 7 categories) or below.
  • The Marriott free night can only be used at hotels that are designated category 5 (out of 9 categories, not counting Ritz-Carlton categories) or below.

The Citi Hilton Reserve card comes with an annual free weekend night valid at nearly any Hilton family property each year you spend $10,000 or more on the card.

In general though I don’t like ‘free nights’ as much as points. I’d rather save my points, use them for whatever room I wish, whenever I wish. These free nights generally expire after one year if they aren’t used. And they can only be used by the person that receives them.

One great way to get more than one night is for two people that travel together to each have the card and each earn their annual free night. Then you make two back-to-back reservations. Now you have a free two night stay.

But what about if you aren’t going to use the award night? Can’t you give it to someone else?

Technically, the rule is no. In practice however you often can. In fact, that’s even one of the insights behind Hyatt’s new Diamond benefit, “Guest of Honor.”

If you’re traveling with someone, you make a reservation in your own name. If they’re going to be arriving first, you want to make sure their name is on the reservation also, so that they can check in ahead of you. In fact, everyone staying at a hotel should really be registered as a guest.

What happens is that people:

  • Make reservations in their name
  • Add someone else as a second guest
  • The second guest checks in
  • The person who made the reservation never does

People use this technique not just to transfer free night awards, but also:

  • To earn elite status and bonus points from promotions through others’ stays
  • To complete a ‘status challenge’ through someone else’s stays
  • To give the benefit of their elite status to family and friends who don’t have status

This isn’t permitted and indeed a hotel would be perfectly within its rights to not honor a free night unless the named member shows up. They’re unlikely to do this.

The hotel would similarly be within its rights to deny elite benefits until the actual elite member showed up. In practice this rarely happens, though I have heard of it happening.

People who do this are clearly breaking the spirit of a program’s rules, but since those rules are rarely enforced it’s hard to have much sympathy. Indeed, Hyatt changed its rules so that Diamonds don’t even need to do this in order to give the benefits of their status to someone else on an award stay. And Starwood lets you earn elite status credit for more than one room at a time at a hotel (in other words, for others’ stays as long as you are a registered guest also).

I don’t intentionally do it — though sometimes even gifting an award stay to someone else with Starwood will yield elite credit for me. That’s because the gifter’s name always remains on the booking, with the recipient added to the reservation as their mechanism for gifting the hotel night.

It’s a grey area for sure, but the question does have an answer.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. There’s even a business built around the ability to add extra names to a reservation. Roomer lets you sell reservations you don’t need and yes they just leave your name in there and add the person buying the room from you. You still get the credit.

  2. My mom and I often do this at the end of Marriott Promotions. Both of us are platinum a so the benefits wouldn’t change. But if one of us has already made the promotion and the other is close we’ll call and add the name for check-in. A little easier for us since we both have the same last name.

  3. What if you know someone who doesn’t care at all about points and status that travels all the time? Can you add your name and loyalty # to their reservation and get credit, even if you aren’t there? Or would they have to just add your account number at check in and pretend it is theirs?

  4. Related question on Hyatt elite qualifying nights. If I do the Hyatt Diamond challenge and book the two free nights that come with the Hyatt credit card, do these two nights count as two nights out of 12 needed to complete the challenge?

  5. I have booked an IHG for others under my name, paid for it myself and had them stay there. — I got the points — but I had to call hotel directly to tell them who would be checking in.
    on another my mother in law used my number, under her name, paid it herself and I got the credits — she also got a Platinum welcome kit

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